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Middle Road Repentance

September 7, 2009

On Sunday we discussed the idea of Repentance. All too often, our notions of repentance too expensive or too cheap. Some of us view repentance as an self-reliant effort to reach deep down into our own spiritual pockets to pay God for our forgiveness. Others of us view repentance as a superficial performance. We slip into the confessional booth, say our sins, slip out, and we are good. Then we keep on sinning. The self-reliant approach is too expensive. The superficial approach is too cheap. What we need is middle-of-the-road repentance.

Middle-of-the-road repentance avoids the dangers of legalistic and loose repentance, while possessing promise for real change. It’s comprised of three elements: Confession, Mortification, and Faith. These three elements aren’t three steps to be followed in sequence, though very often they fall that way. Rather, they are three elements necessary for gospel-centered repentance. Perhaps these rough explanations will be helpful:

Confession of Sin

In order to confess our sin, we have to know our sin. If we’re not looking for it, then we don’t know it, and we cant confess it. How do we know it? Ask the question: “What do I want most?” If it’s not Jesus, then you’ve found your sin(s). Why should we confess? Sin festers, burrows deep down into our souls and we become worse because of it. When we hide sin, we become trapped by it. It corners us in the dark. Confession allows us to bring it out into the light, expose it, to escape its clutches. Confession breaks the power of private sin.

Mortification of Sin

Once we drag sin out into the light, how in the world do we beat it? Fighting sin is a lifelong calling. Sin doesn’t give up easily. It’s set against us. It wants to steal our joy, to kill us. We must take up arms against it. As John Owen said, we must “Be killing sin lest it be killing you.” We fight it. Kill it. Mortify it, but how?  In order to fight sin, we have to understand what makes it tick, what gives it life. We have to figure out where it gets its strength, its power. If we are going to mortify, we have to move beyond the superficial performances of the confessional booth, and into the depths of our hearts, where sin sinks its roots. You might say we need to get to the sin beneath our sin, to its root. In order to get underneath our sin, we have to ask the question “Why?” Why do I choose pride over humility, lust over love, gossip over encouragement, envy over empathy? Why do we sin? Well, fundamentally it’s because believe something about sin. That it is more compelling, more attractive, more satisfying, more trustworthy than Jesus. Underneath every sin there is an idol. It’s down there, fueling our sin, giving it power over us. How? It lies to us. How do we uncover it? Mortify it? Here’s how. Expose its lies. Just ask the question: “What lie am I believing when I do X?

Faith in the Truth

After we’ve figured out the lie, how do we turn the corner in conquering sin? How do we defeat those cyclical sins? Well, whenever we turn from something, we also turn to something . The question is what are we turning to? Another lie or a truth? The first two elements of repentance—Confession and Mortification—are a turning from sin, but complete repentance also includes a turning to. We turn from faith in our idols to faith in God, from lies and turn to truths. This is repentance, a constant turning away from sin and turning to Christ. Repentance is an act of faith. Faith in what? Faith in God’s promises. Owen: “Set faith on work on these promises of God…it is not easily conceived what a train of graces is attended withal, when it goes forth to meet Christ in the promises…” (Mortification, 126). Set faith on these promises because when we go out to meet Jesus he brings a “train of graces” to us that woo us from the deceitful promises of sin into his all-satisfying arms. See, ultimately repentance is about trusting Jesus. It’s about grace. It’s about believing the truths of the gospel, not the lies of idols. How can we get in on this train of graces? Trust Christ. Set faith on the promises. Ask yourself the question: “What promises are opposite the lies I believe?

In You Can Change, Tim Chester helpfully points us to four basic promises. The 4 Gs:

1. God is great – so we don’t have to be in control

2. God is glorious – so we don’t have to fear others

3. God is good – so we don’t have to look elsewhere

4. God is gracious – so we don’t have to prove ourselves

These 4Gs are helpful summaries of God’s various promises, so better yet, find the promises in your Bible that back them up. Find truths to fight lies and start talking back to your idols. Start mortifying your sin! As you do, you’ll find that train of graces that attends God’s promises. You’ll find that God is glorious, good, gracious and great! You’ll find middle-of-the-road repentance.

Helpful Resources on Repentance

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. jstimages permalink
    September 9, 2009 9:06 am

    Thanks Jonathan for this helpful material. This is a good pathway to help avoid legalism and loose confessional tendencies.

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